Gospel Reading: Luke 6:20-31 (NRSV)
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Imagine a time when your world was completely turned upside down. A time when, one moment, things were going well, and then the next, it seemed like your world was falling apart. Or, maybe you’ve had an experience when great blessing came out of pain. We’ve all had moments in our lives when we were completely taken by surprise, when we knew without a doubt that as a result of some event, our lives were changed forever. In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus offers statements of blessing and warning called the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes in Luke, offer a series of reversals, or situations that are turned completely around. They mirror a similar subversive action originally introduced through Mary’s response to the announcement that she has been chosen to carry God’s child, in Luke’s first chapter. An act of subversion pushes back against the status quo, stripping away the lies that are taught to us by society and says “No! That is not how it has to be.”
In both scriptures Mary, followed later by her son, describe a world turned completely upside down, where the poor are lifted up and the powerful find that their power is lost to them, in a scandalous message where hope and struggle intermingle. What makes these Lukan Beatitudes differ from their counterparts in Matthew, is that the ethereal, more spiritual quality of Matthew’s Beatitudes disappears in Luke’s version. In Luke, Jesus addresses his hearers directly. As a result, the tone here is characterized by an earthy directness. “Blessed are you who are poor…. you who are hungry now…you who weep now… when people hate you…” The disciples, who have left all that they have to follow Jesus’ call upon their lives will come to understand what it is like to be in all of these situations, because they are just now beginning to witness the needs of the people to whom they’ll minister, but also because they too are and will continue to be poor, hungry, in emotional pain, and fear the hatred of those who reject them. The situations Jesus describes in the Beatitudes are personal, visceral, raw, and completely surround him and the disciples throughout their ministry as described in Luke. Luke’s blessings and woes describe the ebbs and flows of life, illustrating that life experiences are fluid rather static. Jesus takes a moment to be candid with his friends and advise them that they will all not only experience the ministry to which they have been called, but the sorrow that comes in tandem with it. Jesus tells them that their worlds will be turned upside down, time and time again.
On this All Saints day, I am reminded of just what it feels like to have my own world suddenly turned upside down. On September 4th of this year my Mother passed away peacefully, at home, in her sleep after a two and a half year battle with cancer. She passed just two days before I was supposed to officially start my internship here at Trinity and instead my start was put on hold while I took almost a month to grieve with my family, to make final arrangements for my Mom, Diane, and to figure out just how I was supposed to find the strength to be a pastoral caregiver in a congregation when it was all I could do to take in a deep breath and try to get through the next moment.
To say that my world, and my that my family’s world had been turned upside down is an understatement. Growing up, my Mom was there for every dance recital, every game, every theatre production. When her first chemotherapy session conflicted my graduation from Clinical Pastoral Education, a year long internship as a Chaplain in an oncology unit, she skyped in so that she could still take part in it. She was the one that my family looked to for guidance, strength, and a good reality check, whether we wanted it or not. Now that she’s no longer physically present it was a huge adjustment to figure out what to do, when my first gut instinct is still to call my Mom for advice, or what I would do, God forbid, should I break down in tears in front of the very people that I’m supposed to be learning to lead. I’ve wept. A lot. I still do.
Losing my Mom was different from my experience of grief with numerous other family members and friends before. Not only was she by far the most painful and closest loss I’ve experienced in my life, but her passing was the first time that, in grief, I found myself struggling to find balance between the world of caregiver and care recipient. In times of loss, we find ourselves stuck in a really nasty tug of war between needing to care for the emotional needs of our loved ones who are grieving, and the desperate need to receive that same care for ourselves. Who do you turn to when everyone around you is also grieving? What does it mean when you are told that these experiences will make you a better caregiver, when you find yourself too emotionally spent to even identify the care you need? These are questions I’ve been asking myself for the past two months, which colored my anticipated transition into my internship with fear and anxiety, when I already had enough transition, fear, and anxiety to last me quite a while. How was I supposed to be strong enough to learn to care for and support a community when I wasn’t sure I could do that for myself?
The Beatitude blessing those who weep has no parallel in Matthew, the closest we get is “Blessed are those who mourn,” but there are differences between the two. In Greek the word used is κλαίοντες (klaíontes), meaning to weep aloud. It is a visible and audible public expression of emotion and while mourning can certainly be expressed in that way, grief is not the only reason people weep aloud. So many things cause our lives to turn upside down. We weep over lost loved ones, when relationships are fractured or broken beyond repair, when jobs are lost and the search for a new one proves challenging, when something we’ve dreamed about doesn’t play out in the way we had hoped. I for one find myself in tears to express a wide range of emotions, from ecstatic disbelief, to stress, to anger and beyond, but I do know that if I don’t take the time to weep aloud those intense emotions bottle up roiling around like a storm cloud until there is no choice but release.
The problem is that weeping aloud, often makes those around us uncomfortable. We avoid making eye contact with someone weeping in public or we have the impulse to comfort someone with a hug and a muttered “Don’t cry.” or “It’ll be okay.” That request not to cry, stems from our own discomfort in the presence of tears in the guise of comforting our loved one, but in our text this morning Jesus blesses you who weep now and promises that you too shall laugh. In that same way we too can become a blessing, by allowing those whom we encounter the safe space to weep. Sometimes a silent presence is worth far more than any words we can offer.
This week as we honor those whom we have lost for All Saints Day, I am reminded of some modern Beatitudes that Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran Pastor and author, read aloud when I heard her speak at an event for her book Accidental Saints, this time last year. I didn’t realize at the time just how much I would need these words only a year later, as I struggled to offer myself permission to weep aloud in the wake of my Mom’s death. I offer you this slight paraphrase:
Blessed are [you] for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are [you] who have buried [your] loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean.
Blessed are [you] who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
Blessed are [you] who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore.
Blessed are [you] who can’t fall apart because [you] have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken.
Blessed are [you] who “still aren’t over it yet.”
Blessed are [you] who mourn.
You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.*
In the Beatitudes Jesus reminds his hearers through the ages that life takes turns, flipping upside down, sometimes with only a moment’s notice, while giving us permission to weep and to do so openly. He warns that suffering will be felt by those who presently experience joy. But at the same time offers hope to those who are suffering, that we too will feel joy again. It’s a promise that can’t be rushed, that takes time to process, let alone feel that it may be true for us. In our weeping we may forget that promise from time to time, but that’s okay. Through God’s loving grace that promise remains, no matter how long it takes, whether or not we’re in a place where we can believe that it is possible for us too, when the best we can do is hope. At the same time it’s a promise that calls for us to allow others the space to weep aloud, and to offer ourselves that same grace in return. Blessed are you who weep now. “You are of heaven, and Jesus blesses you.”**
* Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), 185-186., The “you” wording in brackets replaced “they” wording in the original text.
** Ibid. 186.